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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member is out of order in referring to current proceedings in another place.

Mr SWARTZ - Perhaps I should merely say that this is a telegram which has been sent to the Minister for Trade.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member will not be in order if he continues to refer to current proceedings in another place.

Mr Hasluck - I rise to order. May I suggest for your consideration, Mr. Speaker, that what the honorable member is doing in attempting to read this telegram is to make a comment on proceedings in this House this morning when Opposition speakers have criticized the handling of a certain matter by a department.

Mr SWARTZ - I suggest that this is not referring to current proceedings in another place.

Mr SPEAKER - I have ruled that it is.

Mr McEwen - I rise to order. The telegram is addressed to me and I have read it. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that it does not refer to proceedings in another place. It is a telegram from a group of public servants who have been charged with corruption by a member of the Labour party. That is what the honorable member wishes to read.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member was definitely referring to current proceedings in another place. If he continues along that line he will be out of order.

Mr SWARTZ - Would it be in order to read the telegram so that the Chair can judge?

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member knows his rights. He is out of order in referring to current proceedings in another place and if he persists in so doing, I will ask him to take his seat.

Mr SWARTZ - I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but the text of the telegram is fully understood, I am sure, by this House. I do say that following what took place in another place yesterday it is very significant-

Mr SPEAKER - Order!

Mr SWARTZ - It is very significant to know that this same matter-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honorable member will not go back to that line of argument.

Mr SWARTZ - The point is that the real test of the import licensing system at the present time is the fact that it has actually worked. It has achieved two things. It has achieved success in the Government's present trade drive. That success is reflected in our improving overseas balances. It is also significant that while the import licensing system has been in operation there has been no disruption of industry or commerce in Australia. In other words, the real test of the system is that it has been working.

It is also interesting to know that the system, which has been built up from scratch in a few years, is now at a stage of efficiency which does not warrant the criticism that has been levelled at it by members of the Opposition to-day. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) made a rather significant statement in the tirade with which he opened his remarks. He said that no single decision which had been made could be justified. I presume that he was referring to the system as ii has operated over the last year or so. 1 am not sure how he seeks to justify a statement of that nature, but that is an indication of the tenor of his remarks. In fact, it is a completely foolish statement which hardly warrants attention save to indicate that the whole basis of his argument was somewhat similar to his original statement.

Reference was also made by the honorable member for Yarra to delays by the Import Licensing Branch in handling applications. It has already been indicated by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) that the backlog which tended to build up last year with the change of base years and so forth has been cut down very considerably by the increased efficiency of the branch during this year. The number of outstanding applications has been reduced from about 3,000 to about 600 at the present time, which I think will be admitted is a pretty substantial improvement in a relatively short period. The honorable member also made a rather vague statement that the decisions last year were the result of panic judgment by the Government. He did not attribute this panic to anybody in particular. But if this kind of panic judgment produces the results to which I am about to refer, I would like to see a lot more panic in the future. At the end of June, 1955, our overseas trade balance was £428,000,000, and during that year we had shown a trading deficit of £142,000,000. A year later the balance was £355,000,000 and in that year the deficit was £73,000,000. At the end of June this year - this is a fairly firm estimate - our overseas funds are expected to reach £545,000,000, with a favorable balance for the year of £190,000,000. The combination of the trade policy which is being pursued by the Government, and the application of the import control system during this period, has actually achieved those results. If they are the result of panic we should have a lot more of it.

The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) stated quite clearly - bringing the argument back on to the rails again - that the discussion related to criticism of the import licensing system. He then proceeded to elaborate on that, but obviously he did not understand from the information in his possession and in the possession of the honorable member for Yarra, the implications of the system which were ultimately clarified by the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne). The Minister indicated that most of the background administrative machinery work, particularly in relation to quota items, is controlled by the Department of Customs and Excise and that the system has been operating reasonably efficiently for some years. I am sure no one here will criticize the work that the Department of Customs and Excise is doing in handling the applications and balancing out the quota system at the present time.

I would also like to indicate that during the last year, being Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade, I have been very closely associated with the import licensing system - I say that with regret in one sense. Nevertheless I have had the opportunity of seeing many hundreds of individuals and deputations and I have also dealt with a large volume of correspondence. Throughout the whole period of my association with this system, this is the first occasion on which this criticism has been brought forward as a basic argument. I suggest that it has been brought forward not with the object of being constructive, but with the object of being critical of the Government and trying to score some political point.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -

That the business of the day be called on.

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